Train, Train Go Away
Barney faces up to the inevitable: he’s not magically going to get fitter by doing nothing.
It sits against one wall of the cellar, locked in by a barricade of old unused frames. Slowly collecting dust and detritus in the five years it has lain undisturbed, unwanted, and plotting my untimely demise. But it’s rapidly becoming obvious that I need to grasp the nettle and finish what I put off all those years ago.
Hello, turbo trainer. I hate you.
It’s been quite an eventful few months, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Kicking off a couple of days before Christmas, a whole phalanx of chronic family issues waded through the happy bimbling of my pre-Christmas preparations and left no time whatsoever to ride. The precise details aren’t important, but I will say that the finale of this joyous episode in my life, Disneyland Paris with two small children, was somewhat marred by Capstan Full-Strength Australian Flu. Queueing for two hours to see Rapunzel (or at least a French girl in a preposterous dress and a spectacular wig) with a full-on fever (a Frozen Fever, if you will) in freezing February temperatures isn’t something I’d recommend. I wish I could’ve Let It Go.
And riding since then has been somewhat arduous, to say the least. Climbs are soul-destroying exercises in self-loathing and mate-envy. Descents have changed from weight-forward, full-throated yells down anything techy and/or fast, to pensive, relaxed moments (usually seated if possible), where I can try to get my breath back to face the onslaught of the next uphill gentle incline/vertical wall of horror. What limited fitness I’ve managed to drag kicking and screaming with me through the winter has made a limping, bloody escape through the hedge of early spring, and I lack the energy or enthusiasm to go after it without some sort of help.
This clearly will not stand. So I’m stuck at a crossroads. I can give up riding (unthinkable), accept my encroaching decrepitude and invest in an e-bike, 15 years before I thought I might, or I can actually try to do something about it before the rot well and truly sets in. And, with the current horrendous weather, that means embracing the turbo. Urgh.
It wasn’t always thus. In the days before rapidly enlarging waistlines and creeping sarcopenia, decreases in fitness could be easily shirked off – by riding more, eating better, even clubbing (pogoing to punk bands is excellent cross training, as it turns out), and a couple of spins on the bike to blow away the ‘sack of potatoes’ feeling was all it took to make sure my riding muscles were on fleek.
But now? All it takes is a couple of weeks of bad weather, another imminent deadline or a bad night thanks to young kids, perhaps a spot of illness, and it all goes totally to shit. I drag myself around what remains of my riding life, attached to several metric tonnes of spare tyre, with muscles like elastic bands, held on to my bones with age-hardened plasticine. Clearly something needs to give. And I desperately hope it’s not my back.
In a likely futile attempt to regain what remains of my youth and dignity, I feel the need to take drastic steps – the ones down to the cellar, where the turbo trainer resides. It glowers in the corner, hissing at me (or is that the washing machine?), and I spend several hours circling it warily, before taking it by surprise and wrestling it onto my poor, misbegotten commuter bike. There. It’s done. Fitness is mere moments away!
Of course, I’ve not actually used it yet. The whole contraption sits there, gazing at me forlornly, like a caged puppy, and getting in the way whenever I try to use the washing machine. It emanates guilt and shame throughout the house, like an avalanche locator beacon in reverse. ‘Stay Away!’ it calls. I must now swallow my self-loathing, recognise on some deep primal level that those stylish trousers I bought last year really don’t fit any more, and that without it I’m not going to be able to clean that climb like I used to back in the days when I was young and beautiful. OK… Young.
Friends of mine speak of exciting modern electramatronics involving hooking your (very expensive) turbo up to some online service and having it automatically replicate the feeling of climbing Ventoux or Mt Tam or Everest or whatever. Sounds overly complicated to me, I just want to put myself in a place of extreme discomfort for as little time as possible in a futile attempt to become hench.
Although I do recall reading recently about a study that says that three minutes of hard exercise is as effective as going to the gym for half an hour. Now that’s a fitness regime I could get behind. Pass me the celebratory cake. And chocolate. And ham. And…